Tuesday, January 26, 2016

P.M.I. and the Power of Student Voice

I love involving students in my reflection process in my class.  I am constantly looking for ways to improve my class and make history better, easier to understand, or more fun for the kids  in my room.

Please don't misunderstand me.  They do not make everyday decisions in class.  They don't decide what units I teach, how I teach them, or what I use to assess student progress.  But they are a valuable resource for me when I try something new, or want to know how to make something better.

I have already talked about having the students fill out a survey about me at the end of the year...click here to read that post.  While that is valuable information for me each year, sometimes I want feedback that is more immediate.

This year I have been searching for ways to deliver information to the students without it being a lecture.  I try to use a variety of teaching strategies throughout the year so students are exposed to many different methods.  I do a form of interactive lecture with words, pictures, videos, and an outline that requires the students to fill in the blanks.  Some kids love it when I lecture, others don't.  They are honest with me and I don't take it personally.  They understand that not every day in here will be an explosion of creativity and fun.  Some days are more traditional.  And that's OK.

This week I introduced a new method of note-taking to my 7th and 8th graders.  I am sure there is a technical term for this strategy, but I call it "Visual Note Taking."  I gave my students paper copies of the lecture I was going to deliver and then required them to re-write the content in anyway that they wanted.  They had to follow a couple of rules.

  1. All of the information on the slide needed to be present on the new slide they created.  I made sure to explain that information was not synonymous with words. They could abbreviate, leave off unimportant words, or summarize what was originally on the slide, but the information that is received from the slide had to all be there.
  2. They needed to find four ways to visually add to make something stand out.  This could be done in the form of a simple sketch, drawing a cloud around important words, or using arrows to show cause and effect.  
  3. They were to highlight the most important information about each slide.  They were limited to only highlighting THREE items.  (I was attempting to make my students choose what the most important information was.  Too many times students think EVERYTHING is important.

Since this was the first time students attempted this form of note-taking in my class, I wanted some feedback.  I presented my students with a P.M.I. chart, and required that they fill it in based on their experience with the visual note-taking strategy.  This would help guide my expectations and use of the method in the future.

P.M.I. stands for "Plus, Minus, and Interesting."   Students were to give me both positive and negative feedback about this strategy.  I also instructed them to tell me ONE thing that I could do different or add to this assignment to make it better for them.

At least TWO positive comments about Visual Note Taking
At least TWO negative comments about Visual Note Taking
At least ONE thing you found interesting about this method

I did tell both 7th grade and 8th grade classes that their negative remarks could not be that they had to "work."  I can't go to my boss and tell her I don't want to do hall duty because it is more "work."  Their "minus" comments had to be constructive.  What made this difficult for you, what didn't you like about it?

As always, when I ask for student input, they come up with things I never would have thought of.  Here are some actual student responses for each category.

  • "I understood the information better."
  • "I was able to stay focused with this better than when you lecture out loud."
  • "I liked being able to shorten up the info."
  • "It was easy."
  • "Getting to choose what to highlight and draw was fun."
  • "Drawing pictures made it stick in my head better."
  • "It makes you think a lot about the topic."
  • "It is time consuming."
  • "I didn't like that we HAD to add pictures."
  • "Sometimes it was hard to decide what was the most important information."
  • "My hand hurt from so much writing."
  • "It isn't good for the auditory learners."
  • "I wish we would have shared with the class or discussed it some."
  • "It was hard to fit it all in the box you gave us.  I needed more room or would prefer to write it on notebook paper."
  • "I already like to take notes this way, I just didn't know it was an actual strategy."
  • "I thought I would like this better than you lecturing, but I actually didn't."
  • "I actually thought it was fun."
  • "I like that I get to take notes the way I wanted to."
  • "I was surprised that I still understood the information without you explaining it."
And the final piece of gathering their opinions was having them tell me one thing that would make this better in the future.  
  • "take out the highlighting requirement, it was hard to figure out what was important."
  • "let us do this on our own paper."
  • "have a break half way through since it took so long, my hand was tired."
  • "Maybe have questions after two or three slides to make sure we understand the information."

I LOVE involving students in the reflection process.  They really have great ideas, that can ignite an even better one.  I think sometimes teachers just assume that all kids want to do is get out of work.  As you can see from their suggestions above, they really do have good ideas that I can incorporate into this strategy in the future.  Some of their ideas even require them to do MORE than what I had required. 
I often involve my students in dialog about my teaching style, assignments and projects we do, and suggestions they have to improve class.   I take their suggestions seriously, they know this.  Because I have created that type of environment, I do feel like students are honest with me and really try to improve their education.  They know that I do not do everything they ask or want, but I do use some of their ideas.  If you aren't willing to seriously consider student input, don't ask.  

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